By Mark Feffer
Skype has made it so easy to video chat over PCs and mobile devices that more employers are using it to replace some in-person interviews.
It makes sense: From the company's point of view, a Skype conversation can save both time and money, very similar to a phone interview but providing a view of the candidate
Skype interviews provide a convenient way for hiring managers to have an initial conversation with a candidate, before committing to the time and expense of tests and additional interviews.
Also, recruiters say that as the competition for talent becomes more intense in technology centers like Boston and San Francisco, companies there are becoming more open to the idea of hiring remote workers in secondary markets.
Video interviews are an invaluable tool for screening those candidates.
As with any interview, the key to a successful Skype conversation is planning. The difference is you need to prepare more than your answers and what you're going to wear. You must consider the technical issues involved in using Skype properly.
Yes, the software is easy to download and install and, yes, webcams today are plug and play.
But neglect the simple aspects of using Skype, and you'll end up looking amateurish and unprepared.
Here's how to make sure you are ready:
First, be sure you've downloaded, installed, and tested Skype's app well before your interview is scheduled -- the sooner the better. Have video chats with several friends to make sure everything's working properly on a variety of systems.
Careful set-up -- in advance -- is very important for a successful interview.
This is a key to any successful interview, but it's especially important on Skype. Not only do you want to make sure you can maintain your poise despite any question you get, you want to be comfortable talking to the camera.
Bear in mind how you'll appear from the interviewer's point of view.
You'll look them in the eye by looking into the camera, not by watching their image on the monitor. Practice talking to the camera and find the position where you're the most comfortable, so you can sit that way for a long period of time.
Provide your friends with a set of questions you expect to be asked, and have them run through them with you. Ask them to mix them up, so you can field them in any order. Having them add in their own questions will prepare you to deal with unanticipated topics.
When the time comes for the interview itself, be sure that you won't be disturbed. If you have kids, you'll need someone to mind them. If you have pets, put them out of the room. Turn off the clothes dryer so its alarm doesn't go off in mid-sentence, and turn off your landline and cell phone.
Put on the same clothes you'd wear if you were going to interview in-person. If the company is formal, wear a jacket and tie for men or a suit jacket for women. If it's more laid back, wear a business casual shirt or blouse.
Don't give into the temptation to dress up only above the waist. First, wearing the complete ensemble will help you stay in the interviewing mood. Second, if you have to stand up for some reason, you don't want your shorts or jeans to ruin the impression you've made.
You have to pay special attention to what's going on during a Skype interview. The interviewer can see you, but it's more difficult to pick up on visual cues when you're trying to keep your attention focused on the camera.
Pay attention to your body language.
You'll be tempted to keep your eyes on the monitor, but focus instead on the webcam.When you do, interviewers will see you looking at them directly.
All of this is in addition to the preparation you'd do ahead of a telephone or in-person interview. For example, research the employer so that you understand its business, and write out a list of questions of your own so you can envision how and where the job fits into the organization.
After the session, send the interviewer a thank you note.
Skype is simple to use, but it might take some time and practice to make your video look and sound clean. Prepare for your interview well ahead of time and you'll look good to the hiring manager, and save yourself a whole lot of stress.
If your field is IT, the standard is higher. Employers expect IT professionals to have technology that works flawlessly.
Mark Feffer has written, edited, and produced hundreds of articles on careers, personal finance and technology for leading business and career sites. He is currently writing for JobsinME.com, JobsinRI.com, JobsinVT.com and JobsinNH.com, the top local resources for job seekers, employers, and recruiters in New England.